OAKLAND, Calif. – Losers in five of their last six games, it would be understandable for the Boston Celtics to be extremely concerned about the direction of their team.
And yet following their 109-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, there was nothing but optimism pouring out of the Celtics locker room from both coaches and players.
"The last three games are more of who we want to be,” said coach Brad Stevens.
Even though Boston lost two of those three games, there were indeed a number of positives they can extrapolate from those games.
The two losses were by a combined five points, with the Celtics in position down the stretch to win both of them.
But they failed to make the necessary plays at either end of the floor in the closing moments, that were needed in order to get the win.
More than anything, Boston sees the first three games of this four-game road trip, as another opportunity to learn about themselves and even more important, how to operate more consistently as an elite team which their record this season suggests that they are.
Boston (34-16) has the best record in the Eastern Conference, leading the Toronto Raptors by 1.5 games and the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers by 5.5 games.
Kyrie Irving is well-versed in how to navigate effectively in hotly contested road games like the one we saw at Oracle Arena on Saturday night.
Irving’s late-game jumper a couple years ago when he played for Cleveland, lifted the Cavaliers past Golden State for Cleveland’s first NBA title.
But that Cleveland team had a decent number of been-there, done-that veterans who not only understood the moment, but beyond that had a high level of confidence and experience in how to best handle marquee matchups.
While Boston’s young core has played well thus far this season, beating a team like Golden State on their building, whether it’s the playoffs or a regular season tilt, is not easily done.
At one point, Irving looked on the floor and saw Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis – three rookies and a second year player – who are still learning how to be impactful players not only against the best teams in the league, but also in a more general sense.
“They’re just thrown into high level, one-seed versus one-seed, type of battle,” Irving said. “It demands everything from you mentally. You have to bring it; you’re going against the champs. Being in Oracle, they go on their runs. Steph is being unbelievable, the crowd is going crazy. It’s a lot to consider. For us we take it as a learning experience. I told them before the game, ‘just take advantage of the opportunity and stick together and weather the storm.’ They’re an incredible team. We’re a developing young team trying to be great as well. You just have to have that confidence.”
And that confidence comes about with learning from all experiences, good and bad.
“As a group we want to win these games,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “But for our group it’s more about making sure we’re playing well and we keep improving throughout the season. I felt we took a step forward even though we lost.”